ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is seizing on a state government shutdown in his home state to try to spark a flagging presidential campaign. The Republican is reminding voters that he too presided over a partial state government shutdown, and he even cut a campaign commercial saying he “won” that one.

The truth is more nuanced: Pawlenty was eager to end the 2005 shutdown and agreed to a hefty fee on cigarettes to do so, a blot on his otherwise clean anti-tax record in the eyes of conservatives.

In his 2012 stump speech, Pawlenty holds up the shutdown as evidence he would wage the tough fights in Washington. He wrote an opinion piece making that case Tuesday in Iowa’s biggest newspaper. Just before the current Minnesota shutdown started, Pawlenty expressed regret about not letting the state’s last government closure go on longer. That shutdown — far less extensive than the current one — ended on the ninth day, when Pawlenty and lawmakers struck a deal.

“I think we would have gotten a better deal had we allowed that to continue for a while and the people of Minnesota would have seen the issues play out a little longer,” Pawlenty said on the eve of the current shutdown, which is nearly two weeks old with no end in sight.

In his memoir published early this year, Pawlenty wrote, “To this day, I still wrestle with whether I should’ve let that shutdown run longer.”

Those who were there with Pawlenty six years ago remember things a little differently.

“During the shutdown of ’05 he was lamenting as much as the rest of us, and now he’s almost wearing it as a badge of courage,” said former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, who sat across the bargaining table from Pawlenty that year. “The attitude was, we need to get this fixed and we need to get this fixed now, as opposed to letting government struggle and not work.”

Republican state Sen. David Senjem remembered Pawlenty coming to a Senate GOP caucus meeting seeking support for the deal he had made.

“How did he say it — that he didn’t like it, that we wouldn’t like it, but for the good of the state of Minnesota we needed to move ahead, end this shutdown and that the road home, so to speak, was going to be the health impact fee,” Senjem said.

The “health impact fee” — Pawlenty’s carefully considered name for the cigarette charge — was the linchpin to ending the shutdown. It brought in enough money to preserve subsidized health care for the working poor, a top goal of Senate Democrats.

It was Pawlenty who brought the proposal into budget negotiations shortly before the mandatory end of the regular legislative session in May that year, outraging conservatives. As a candidate in 2002, Pawlenty had signed the Minnesota Taxpayers League’s no-new-taxes pledge, and the head of that group took the cigarette proposal three years later as a betrayal.

“It sure sounds mighty cute to me. Knowing what I know right now it sounds a heck of a lot more like a cigarette tax increase than a health impact fee,” said David Strom, the group’s head, said at the time.

Pawlenty, though, seemed more focused on avoiding the shutdown and once it started, bringing it to a conclusion.

“It would be very unsettling and unfortunate and inconvenient and problematic to thousands and thousands of Minnesotans and their families,” he said a few days before parts of state government closed.

Johnson recalled walking into Pawlenty’s office days into the shutdown with a Democratic offer to raise cigarette taxes to help pay for public health programs.

“I remember him, in pencil, crossing out `cigarette tax’ and writing down `health impact fee.’ That was telling,” Johnson said in an interview Tuesday. “It was something he did not want to do but at the same time he knew that for the good of the order, for the good of Minnesota, that some kind of revenue needed to occur. That’s what broke the stalemate, and a few other things along the way.”

Dan McElroy, Pawlenty’s chief of staff at the time, didn’t dispute Johnson’s account.

McElroy said Pawlenty was hard at work at negotiations during the shutdown, trying to hammer out a resolution. McElroy said Pawlenty had valid policy reasons for defining the cigarette charge as a fee because there was already a wholesale cigarette fee in law and a direct tax would have exempted cigarettes sold on Indian reservations, giving casinos a major price advantage. The Minnesota Supreme Court eventually agreed that the charge was properly defined as a fee.

On the day the partial stoppage ended, Pawlenty compared the budget deal to a late teenager: “I’m glad that they’re here safe, but I’m mad it’s late.”

He also acknowledged the political price of the shutdown: “We’re all going to take our lumps — as we should — for this.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (21)
  1. joe says:

    Dayton’s shutdown is much better, much longer than Pawlenty’s. I think Pawlenty has shutdown envy.

  2. SK says:

    Pawlenty does not understand what voters want – not a good sign for his hope to be President. Everyone said the mixed results of the national and state elections – part Democrat part Republican – shows that the voters want the two parties to work together and find a compromised approach to government. Our elected GOP legislators have missed this totally too!

    1. RW says:

      How do you say “part democrat and part republican”? Not what happened at all. It’s more 60% of the voters wanted Tea party or Republicans, and they split the vote and Liberals got in. Nobody agrees with spend spend spend anymore, well at least nobody that understands that outflow at MOST can equal inflow.

      1. Tom says:

        @ RW

        The only problem with your comment that “Nobody agrees with spend spend spend anymore” is that if that was the case then Mark Dayton should not be sitting in the Gov office it should be Tom Emmer. And the conservatives will always use the argument that state has a spending problem and not a revenue problem well the conservatives lost that argument went Pawlenty had to ask US Bank to have money set aside just in case. You don’t say on one hand we don’t have a revenue problem then turn around and ask a bank to set money aside.

  3. CN says:

    In 05 Pawlenty was working against a democrat congress who only wanted to raise our taxes to fix the budget. Sound familiar? Now Dayton wants to raise taxes (a pattering here) to fix the budget. I wish Pawlenty would have the congress we have now so he could have the support he needed.
    SK The 2010 election showed the voice of the people. They want government, state & federal to spend within their means. Dayton wants to spend more than what the state can take in, plain and simple.

    1. griley says:

      Pawlenty used one time stimulus money and did not pay schools to to balance the budget knowing full well we would be in this situation after he left office.

  4. Angus says:

    CN: Must be a conservative. Dayton wants a balanced budget and not on the backs of the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and the middle class. The Republicans stance is no more taxes, no compromise, we want a class war. Pawlenty played games with the books that get people in trouble with the IRS if they use the same games on the company or personal financial records. Remember how he reassigned costs to the wrong depts. just to cover up what he was doing? User fees? Raised property taxes by cities and counties to get enough revenue to cover basic services? If Pawlenty became President the Hispanics in Mexico would be sending money to relatives in the US

    1. Tom says:

      @ Angus

      Very True! Apparently someone hasn’t told Pawlenty that if you are President you can’t move money around. And Pawlenty did raise taxes he just hid behind the word “fee”.

    2. Janice says:


      Well said

  5. GOPSUX says:

    Dirty republican filth is he.

  6. ME says:

    It is time for koch to git off her fatttttt ass and start to compromise.

    1. Ronald Raygun says:

      Amy Koch looks like Jabba the Hut, don’t you think?

      1. We says:

        Amy Koch IS Jabba the Hut!!!!!!!!!

    2. Tom says:

      @ ME

      Koch and Zellars can’t unless they get Grover Nordquist and Phil Krinkies approval first.

      1. Janice says:


        You forgot Tony Sutton

        1. Tom says:

          @ Janice

          Yes I did Thank You! And the one thing I will say about Emmers even though I don’t like him he paid off Tony Suttons mess with the counties.

  7. ya ya betcha says:

    Ya he is spinning alright, his head is foolish lies, but he is a politican so what does one expect, sorry you’ll never be president and If for some unfortunate luck he does god help us all!!

  8. Middle of the road says:

    At least WCCO admits they are spinning the story in the by line. Because as we all know it takes two. If Pawlenty would not have capitualated, would they have over rode a veto like they did two years ago, thus creating our current mess? You see, what I saw was a man that admitted he did not do enough for the state and he should have fought harder to force the democrats not to spend so much. apparently I and the associated press writer saw two different speaches by our former governor. SPIN SPIN SPIN WCCO.

  9. Murph says:

    Yeh Tim is a legend in his own mind! Unfortunately for him everyone else sees him as political midget with with a pea sized brain! None of his ingenious proposals have had any merit. And it’s seems the only thing he has ever had that was long and hard was not work related, just 3 rd grade and political double speak!

  10. A conservatives memory of a loser says:

    We also have a rosy memory of you Gov. Your health impact fee was a lie. Plain and simple it was a lie and double talk which your and expert on. Your not going anywhere loser. Waste your time and money. You couldn’t govern a state and sure as hell couldn’t govern a nation.

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